One lesson for the Law Society: Coercion isn’t the best way to achieve justice.
mariusz szczygiel – Fotolia
The controversial and compulsory Statement of Principles (“SOP” for short) of the Law Society of Ontario was just kicked to the curb in the recent Law Society Bencher election. More than half of the LSO’s new lawyer Benchers – the governing board of the Law Society – were elected on a “StopSOP” slate.The SOP measure was meant to force lawyers and paralegals in the province to sign a statement acknowledging their obligation to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, on pain of penalty. Every progressively minded lawyer, like myself, who is concerned with improving equality, diversity and inclusion within the legal profession and throughout society should take a moment to reflect on this experience.Lesson One: The LSO’s coercive methods arguably backfired. When I think of equality, diversity and inclusion, the word “coercion” does not come to mind. And yet that is exactly the method the LSO decided to apply against its members. Lawyers are trained to be independent thinkers in order to be impartial advisers. They do not take well to coercion of speech or conscience, whatever the objective. The rule of law is predicated on a culture of respect for individual autonomy. How can lawyers be expected to set the platinum standard for respect for individual autonomy when we don’t practise what we preach?Every progressively minded lawyer, like myself, who is concerned with improving equality, diversity and inclusion within the legal profession and throughout society should take a moment to reflect on this experience.Lesson Two: This is not a debate about whether to achieve equality, diversity and inclusion. It’s a debate about how. That is why, as a progressively minded member of a faith community, I was uncomfortable with the SOP. The language and ideas that were imported into the Statement of Principles in the LSO report that recommended it saw people primarily in terms of their race and other prohibited grounds of discrimination, in order to force specific outcomes. It did not see people primarily as human persons endowed with dignity and creativity who are capable of learning and merit.How are we to make any progress if we assume the lens and tools of oppression? In short, it felt dehumanizing to see people through the lens of their race and other prohibited grounds, whatever the motivation, and to use coercive tactics to try to fill quotas as if we were so many pieces of merchandise to be measured up, counted out and stocked. I’d rather understand a person in all of his or her humanity, which cannot be quantified, in order to know and love them unconditionally. That is what my faith teaches me, with the exhortation to free the oppressed, feed the needy, heal the sick and clothe the naked. Would the LSO have had more success if it had focused instead on reducing barriers to equality of opportunity, so that the individual can thrive in all of his or her uniqueness, instead of focusing on achieving specific outcomes by measuring them on the basis of race, sex and creed? Did the SOP inadvertently worsen racialization?Lesson Three: The Statement of Principles seemed patronizing towards racialized persons by assuming they needed to depend on other lawyers to validate them by signing onto a coercive SOP. But this went against my deeply held belief that each of us, whether racialized or not, has the ability, where equality of opportunity is allowed to abound, to create strength within our communities to validate each other, attract one another, build common projects together and contribute to a justice system that is inclusive and diverse.I wish our new Benchers success in their new term and I hope that they will take a moment to reflect on these lessons as we strive as a profession to improve equality, diversity and inclusion. May they see this experience as a step, not a stop, on the 1,000-mile journey to lowering barriers to equality, diversity and inclusion.Dylan McGuinty Jr. is a lawyer in Ottawa practising in the areas of Wills and Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Trust Law, and assisting Executors and Legal Attorneys. Website: http://www.mcguintylaw.ca